It was bitterly cold on Jan. 4, 1981 at Cleveland Stadium – zero degrees at kickoff, with a wind-chill factor of minus-37.
And the end was bitterly disappointing for the Browns.
Such was the game that has become known simply as “Red Right 88.”
Brian Sipe’s pass intended for tight end Ozzie Newsome -- a play called Red Right 88 -- was intercepted in the end zone by safety Mike Davis with 41 seconds left, sealing the Browns’ fate in a 14-12 loss to the Oakland Raiders in the 1980 AFC divisional playoffs before a frozen crowd of 77,655.
That brought down the curtain on the Kardiac Kids’ season, arguably the most exciting in Browns history as 14 of the 17 games – including the playoffs – were not decided until the final two minutes. The Browns finished the regular season 11-5, made the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons and captured their first AFC Central in nine years.
Things started out well for the Browns. After a scoreless first quarter, cornerback Ron Bolton intercepted a Jim Plunkett pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. But Don Cockroft missed the extra point.
The Raiders, though, led, 7-6, at halftime after Mark Van Eeghen ran one yard for a score and Chris Bahr, the brother of Matt Bahr, who would join the Browns late the following season, booted the conversion.
Two 30-yard field goals by Cockroft in the third quarter gave the lead back to the Browns, 12-6.
Then the Raiders went ahead, 14-12, in the fourth quarter on another one-yard touchdown run by van Eeghen.
When the Browns stopped van Eeghen cold on a fourth-and-six inches run at the Cleveland 15 with 2:22 left, they took over and marched 72 yards down the field. For all the world, it looked like another typical Kardiac Kids finish, with the Browns coming back to win as the clock wound down.
But it didn’t happen.
Sipe, who became the first Brown since Jim Brown in 1965 to win the NFL Most Valuable Player award, struggled in the cold weather, hitting on 13-of-40 passes for 183 yards with three interceptions. But Plunkett had trouble as well, going 14-of-30 for 149 yards and two interceptions.
Newsome was the Browns’ top receiver with four catches for 51 yards, and running back Greg Pruitt added 54 yards receiving on three grabs.
Mike Pruitt led the club in rushing with 48 yards in 13 carries as Cleveland amassed 254 total yards while holding Oakland to just 208.
The Browns traded Greg Pruitt to the Raiders after the 1981 season. During training camp that next year, he called Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano with an incredible story.
In practice on a beautiful, sunny day, Mike Davis had dropped pass after pass.
“He couldn’t catch anything,” Pruitt lamented.
Yet, on that bitterly cold day in 1981 when everybody was struggling to hold on to the ball, Davis latched onto Sipe’s pass as if he had glue on his hands.
This same day in Browns history is brought to you today by Cleveland Clinic. With 27 locations, world class care is always near you. Call 855-411-DAWG for a same-day appointment.